Knowing the rules of grammar is important. Our blog has many posts about this. While learning the rules can help you, it’s also important to practice “grammatical fitness.” Just as you exercise your body to keep it in good shape, you need to exercise your mind to be a “fit” user of English grammar.
One of the best ways to do grammar exercises is through picture prompts. Picture prompts are language exercises where you look at a picture and then speak or write about the picture. Pictures are a perfect starting point for using English on your own; you can add just about any kind of language you want to a picture. You can play around and use different grammar forms to describe what you see.
For grammatical fitness, sometimes it’s good to use a picture of something you know a lot about. A map of your home country is especially good for grammar exercises. There’s probably no limit to what you could say about your home country. For an example of a map-based grammar exercise, I will now show you a map of my home country (the USA.), and then show you two paragraphs I wrote about it. The grammar form practiced was the article “the.” To give myself a real grammar work-out, I followed all six rules for using “the”.
Photo by Rambo Wiki
Grammar exercise (using “the”):
This is a map of my home country, the U.S.A. On the map, the capital cities of the states are marked by stars. The dots mark the other major cities. Off to the right near the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll see the bigger star that marks Washington DC. This is the capital of the entire United States.
One of my favorite state capitals to visit is Denver, which is in the Rocky Mountains. I love mountain climbing near Denver. The mountain climbing experience is great in many parts of the world, but I think the joy of mountain climbing is greatest in the Denver area. Denver is also home to many famous people, including David Fincher. Yes, the David Fincher, the man who directed the movie Fight Club.
I could practiced grammar forms other than “the” with the map above too. For example, I could have practiced simple past and past continuous tense by writing “I climbed a mountain while I was visiting Denver.” Or I could have practiced passive voice by saying “Mount Rushmore, a giant statue in South Dakota, was carved by American sculptors.”
You should also use photos for your grammar exercises. Sometimes it’s good to simply search the Internet for a picture that you want to write or talk about. For example, I just did a quick Google Image Search for the words “funny photo.” I quickly found a picture I like and want to speak about. I’ll use it to practice my adjectives. Look at the picture below. Then listen to the linked sound file. How many adjectives do you hear me use?
Grammar Exercise (using adjectives):
Map websites for grammar exercises:
I’ve found that one of the best places to look for maps is Google Image Search. However, there are a few good websites that specialize in maps from around the world.
1) National Geographic Map Machine. This website allows you to look at any part of the world, viewing it as a road map or as a satellite photograph.
2) World Atlas. Maps by continent, region, and country.
3) Wikipedia. Look up just about any spot on earth, and Wikipedia will probably have a map of it.
Photo websites for grammar exercises:
Here are a few English language websites for sharing photos. You can use photos from these sites as pictures for your grammar exercises. You can also practice English by uploading and explaining your own photos, and sending messages to other site members.
2) Webshots. A lot of really beautiful photos on this website. Some paintings too!
3) Flickr. Similar to Webshots, but with even more great photos.
5) Fotolog. This site seems especially good for finding pictures of people.
6) IStockPhoto. This is not actually a social website. Instead, it’s a site where you can search for “stock images,” pictures of very specific things. It’s really easy to search by keyword on this site.
PS. If you want to learn more about how to study grammar for the TOEFL, check out our infographic on TOEFL grammar here. 🙂